Eve’s offspring, the serpent, and his offspring—Part 2
Abraham and Israel
Published: 30 September 2014 (GMT+10)
In the midst of condemning Adam, Eve, and the serpent for rebelling in Eden, God promised redemption—Eve’s offspring would crush the head of the serpent. Part 1 traced the theme from the Fall through the Tower of Babel.
After the account of the confusion of languages at the Tower of Babel, the reader of Genesis is left momentarily wondering about God’s plan for redeeming humanity—the people are scattered over the earth, but unlike previously, God hasn’t singled out anyone for the continuation of the covenant promises. Noah and Shem are still alive, according to the genealogy in Genesis 11, but they are also absent from this section of the narrative. Joshua 24:2 suggests that even Shem’s line fell into idolatry (“Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods”), and there is no indication at this point that anyone still serves the true God.1
Abram: the line of promise introduced
In the midst of this unprecedented spiritual darkness, God called Abram to follow Him to a place He would show him. This is a costly calling, involving sacrificing his country, his clan, and his immediate family—all for a God he does not appear to have any prior knowledge of or relationship with. This makes Abraham’s obedience that much more surprising.2
God did not choose Abram because he was particularly wise or righteous, on the contrary: “Abraham himself was from a family of idolaters (Josh. 24:2) and hence was classed among the ‘ungodly’ (see Rom. 4:5). The Lord ‘took’ Abram from Ur and led him to Canaan (Josh 24:3).”3 But Abram did respond to God’s call in faith, which is always a characteristic of believers in Scripture, and when Abram believed God, “he counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).
God promised that Abram would have descendants as numerous as the stars or sand on the seashore. But Sarai was barren, and so they tried to have a son on their own terms. As was common during that period, they used Sarai’s slave Hagar as a concubine, and Ishmael was born. But Ishmael was not the son of promise. While God promised to bless Ishmael for Abram’s sake (Genesis 17:20), He insisted that the promised son would be the son of Abram and Sarai (Genesis 17:5), and to emphasize the point, He changed their names to Abraham and Sarah. So when human ingenuity was exhausted, and it was clearly physically impossible apart from God’s intervention, Sarah gave birth to Isaac, the son of the promise. So there was now a clear lineage for the “offspring of the woman”.
Just as the serpent’s spiritual offspring are characterized by rebellion, lying, and murder, the line of promise is characterized by faith (although the people in this line are far from perfect). So to test Abraham, God commanded him to sacrifice Isaac—the son through whom God would fulfill all His promises. But Abraham did not hesitate to obey because He believed God, and God not only rewarded his obedience and faith, but also provided a ram as a substitute sacrifice.
Isaac and the ram as a picture of Jesus
Often, people who were important in the line of the Messiah foreshadow Him in some way, and we see this with the sacrifice of Isaac. God calls Isaac Abraham’s “only son … whom you love”. There is a parallel when God says to Jesus, “You are my beloved Son” (Mark 1:11). Isaac, like Jesus, was sacrificed willingly4 without a struggle and carried the wood for his own sacrifice, just as Jesus carried His own cross.
The parallels end, however, when God stops Abraham from killing his son—God showed no mercy to His own Son, because God’s wrath poured out on Jesus is what allows Him to show mercy to those who trust in Jesus’ sacrifice. The ram, sacrificed instead of Isaac, then serves as another picture of Jesus—God’s Lamb slain as our substitute.
Hebrews 11:19 says that Abraham “considered that God was able even to raise him [Isaac] from the dead”. So Abraham had faith that God would fulfill his promise even if Isaac was killed; he believed that God would raise Isaac from the dead. And indeed, Abraham’s statement that he would return with Isaac in Genesis 22:5 indicates that he was not lying to deceive the servants, but was actually showing great faith. God’s response is to reaffirm the promise yet again (Genesis 22:15–18). And by the end of Genesis, Israel has started to multiply; Abraham’s grandson Jacob’s family had 70 people by the time he went to Egypt.
But even here, there is evidence of the serpent’s offspring versus the woman’s offspring, even within the line of promise. When Jacob blessed his sons before he died, he said about Dan:
Dan shall be a serpent in the way,
a viper by the path,
that bites the horse’s heels
so that his rider falls backward (Genesis 49:17).
Probably the primary reference has to do with the fact that the tribe of Dan, while apparently unimpressive (it occupied the smallest area of any of the tribes, along the northern seacoast, apparently vulnerable to attack), nevertheless was a dangerous adversary, well able to protect Israel’s northern boundary against invaders.
On the other hand, the reference to the serpent may also refer symbolically to the fact that it was the Danites who introduced idolatry into the land of Israel on a regular official basis (Judges 18:30, 31). It was also in Dan that Jeroboam, who led the rebellion that culminated in the divided kingdom, set up one of his two golden calves (1 Kings 12:28–30).5
But another of Jacob’s sons will be the ancestor of the promised Son:
Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
your father’s sons shall bow down before you.
Judah is a lion’s cub;
from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He stooped down; he crouched as a lion
and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples (Genesis 49:8–10).
So while the entire nation of Israel will continue to be identified with the promise of deliverance, the deliverer, the Messiah, has now been promised to come specifically through Judah (see also Micah 5:2, quoted in Matthew 2:6, and Revelation 5:5). And this will change the sorts of analogies that Scripture uses and the connections that are drawn. In Genesis, a lot of times the promise was linked with things that clearly referenced the offspring of the woman and the offspring of the serpent. But now that God has clearly singled out one people to be the vehicle for that promise, the references look forward to the fulfillment of that promise, rather than back to Genesis. But as we will see in the New Testament, the fulfillment of the promise looks back to both the people of Israel and the promise to Eve in the Garden. So while the promise to Eve retreats to the background for much of the rest of the Old Testament, in the New Testament we find that the whole narrative can only be interpreted in the light of Genesis 3.
Moses: God vs Egyptian gods
Events in Egypt would lead to the formation of a nation from which the Messiah would ultimately come. Exodus records one of the greatest attempts of the spiritual offspring of the serpent to exterminate the spiritual offspring of the woman when Pharaoh ordered the baby boys of the Israelites to be murdered. But God used the two lowly midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, to thwart Pharaoh; they refused to murder the boys. And when he extended this command to all the people, God used Pharaoh’s own household to preserve the boy who would grow up to lead the Exodus.
God singled out Moses to be the single–most–important Hebrew prophet until John the Baptist announced Jesus’ coming, not because he was the most eloquent and qualified person, but because of God’s sovereign plan. Moses was well aware of his own shortcomings, and pleaded with God to send someone else. God allowed Aaron to be Moses’ mouthpiece—but He would not change His mind; Moses would be the man He used to deliver Israel from the Egyptians.
The Egyptians had one of the most elaborate systems of idolatry of the ancient world. There was a vast pantheon of gods, among them Pharaoh himself. Yahweh asserted ownership of Pharaoh’s Israelite slaves, but Pharaoh was unwilling to acknowledge a rival God. So instead of releasing the slaves, Pharaoh made their work even harder in defiance of God’s command.
Because Pharaoh would not recognize God, God sent the Ten Plagues—targeted attacks on important Egyptian deities. This showed God’s superiority and the false gods’ lack of control over the areas they were supposed to rule. When the tenth plague killed all the firstborn sons in Egypt—even Pharaoh’s son—Pharaoh allowed the Israelites to go.
So Moses led the people out of Egypt, but they did not enter the Promised Land right away. In the wilderness on the way to Canaan, we get the first indication that even though Jacob’s descendants are corporately the people through whom God will redeem humanity—in that the Messiah will come through the Jewish people—not all of them are part of the people of God or the “offspring”. The people constantly provoke God and ultimately bring God’s judgment on them.
Even some of the most respected men in Israel were ultimately ‘offspring of the serpent’, if we understand them as being characterized by deceit and rebellion against God. Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took unauthorized or ‘strange’ fire to offer incense before God, and God killed them for it. This is the first recorded sacrifice that God did not accept since Cain, and so it is significant—God demands that we come to Him on His terms, and Nadab and Abihu were killed when they did not obey, even though they were respected elders who were among those who feasted on Mount Sinai when Moses received the law from God.
When Moses sent spies into the land of Canaan, he chose respected leaders from each tribe. But when they came back, ten of the twelve spies gave a “bad report” (Hebrew: dibbah) about the land. They lied about the fierceness of the people saying that the descendants of the Nephilim were there.6 Caleb (significantly from the tribe of Judah) along with Joshua from the tribe of Ephraim dissented from the majority report, and told the people that the land was good, and its inhabitants’ protection was gone because God had given the land to Israel. But the people would not listen, and the lying report caused the whole nation to refuse to go into the land. As a result, God refused to let any of that generation enter the land except Caleb and Joshua and punished the liars and their families.
Moses and the Messiah
God makes Moses’ unique status among the prophets clear: “If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord” (Numbers 12:6–8). His pre–eminent place among the prophets was suitable because God chose to reveal the first five books of written Scripture through him.
But Moses pointed to a future prophet who would enjoy a similar close relationship with God: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—just as when you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die. And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him” (Deuteronomy 18:15–19).
Jesus explicitly claimed to be the fulfillment of this prophecy (John 5:46), and to have the sort of authority that Moses attributed to this prophet.
Balak and Balaam
As we’ve seen, the spiritual offspring of the serpent is characterized by a refusal to accept God’s Word. Immediately Israel decided to try to enter Canaan, but suffered a crushing defeat. The rest of the book of Numbers is the story of a series of judgments that kill off that generation.
One of the recurring themes of Scripture is that God is faithful to His promises even when people are not. Near the end of the forty years in the wilderness, Israel started winning victories against its foes. Balak the Moabite was afraid of Israel, so he tried to hire Balaam to curse Israel, thinking that with the right invocations, one could turn a god for or against a certain people. Apparently, Balak (correctly) doubted the ability of his god Chemosh to defend his people against Yahweh’s7 people.8
So Balak called Balaam, a well–known diviner who lived over 400 miles away,9 to come and curse Israel. But God told Balaam not to go to curse them, because the people were blessed. When the first messengers went back and relayed Balaam’s refusal to Balak, Balak only sent more messengers to try to persuade him. God allowed him to go, but only to speak what He told him to say. Four times Balaam is forced to bless Israel. In the fourth, we see a prophecy about the Messiah:
I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near:
A star shall come out of Jacob,
and a scepter shall rise out of Israel
it shall crush the forehead of Moab
and break down all the sons of Sheth
Edom shall be dispossessed;
Seir also, his enemies, shall be dispossessed.
Israel is doing valiantly.
And one from Jacob shall exercise dominion and destroy the survivors of cities! (Numbers 24:17–19).
This glorious king in the far future will completely defeat Israel’s enemies. David’s military victories seem to be a sort of fulfillment of this, but the language is too exalted to only refer to a human king. The sect at Qumran as well as first century Jews understood this to refer to the reign of the Messiah.
In this episode, Balaam comes across like he might believe in Yahweh. But what follows makes it clear that he does not actually have faith in Yahweh, even though he acknowledges His existence and even His power to an extent—in fact, his subsequent actions prove that he is a child of the serpent. The very next thing Scripture records is the Moabites enticing the Israelites into idolatry and immorality with the Moabite and Midianite women. Later, Scripture makes it clear that this was Balaam’s idea: he could not turn God’s wrath towards Israel, but he apparently perceived that they could bring it on themselves by sinning against Him. So Balaam’s name in the rest of Scripture becomes synonymous with idolatry and sinning against the Lord.
Amalekites vs. Israel
The Amalekites also come on the scene during the wandering in the wilderness as one of Israel’s ultimate enemies. In fact, there is no record of God showing mercy to any Amalekite. The reason for God’s perpetual wrath against them is revealed in Deuteronomy 25: “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear God. Therefore when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies around you, in the land the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven, you shall not forget” (vv. 17–19).
The Amalekites were actually closely related to the Israelites; Amalek was a grandson of Esau. That only made their treachery all the worse, and God declared perpetual enmity against them. However, the various generations of Amalek continued to deserve this condemnation, because the Amalekites continued to be Israel’s enemies throughout the period of the judges.
Many years ahead, Saul waged battle against them, and David defeated them, apparently finally and completely. However, it’s possible that Haman the Agagite, the antagonist of the book of Esther, was a descendant of King Agag, who Samuel hacked to death.
The story of Israel’s conquest of Canaan is largely one of the people of God displacing and defeating the ungodly, idolatrous Canaanites. But there are a few exceptions where Canaanites display faith in Yahweh and are not wiped out.
Rahab was a prostitute in an idolatrous, wicked culture. But when the spies came to Jericho, she hid them in return for her family being spared when Israel conquered Jericho. The book of Joshua says that her whole family was saved from destruction. And Matthew even puts her in the lineage of Jesus. So Rahab, a Canaanite, was saved because she had faith in God. This shows that even at this time in salvation history, salvation was by faith, not by being descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Rahab was honest with the Israelites when she pleaded for her life and her family. But the Gibeonites, while they knew that the land was given to the Israelites, decided to use deception to ensure their survival. They took moldy food and old, torn–up clothes so that it looked like they had been on a long journey, and persuaded Israel to enter into a treaty with them. This meant that the Gibeonites would become vassals of the Israelites, but they were also guaranteed protection—in the very next chapter Israel had to go to their defense when the Amorites attacked them.
This treaty was also perpetual, and God Himself enforced it. When David was king, there was a drought because Saul had tried to exterminate the Gibeonites and their dead had not been avenged. God did not send rain until the Gibeonites were allowed to avenge their dead by killing seven of Saul’s male descendants.
Saul the failed king of Israel
The next time we see a major ‘leap forward’ in regards to Messianic revelation is when Israel gets a king. For several hundred years, Israel was a theocracy—Yahweh was their king, and the law was the law of Moses. But in Samuel’s day, Israel rejected this form of government and demanded that Samuel give them a king. So Samuel anointed Saul, of the tribe of Benjamin, as king. But Saul was not of the tribe of Judah—and God had already inspired Scripture to say that the scepter belonged to Judah. And the only tribe spoken of more negatively than Benjamin is Dan, who introduced idolatry into Israel. So God appointed Saul as king as a judgment on Israel. This is evident in Samuel’s warnings to the people about what the king would do (1 Samuel 8:10–18).
In fact, Saul is a spiritual son of the serpent, and this is evident fairly early on in his rule. When he had reigned for two years, he presented an unauthorized sacrifice when Samuel was late to arrive. As is evident in the accounts of Cain as well as Nadab and Abihu, it is a serious offense to give an offering that differs in any way from what God has prescribed. When we think that it is acceptable to approach God on our own terms, it is an indication that we do not take God seriously at His word. Samuel told Saul that because of this, his kingdom would not continue. God had already sought out the man who would replace him.
Saul shows throughout the rest of his reign that God’s judgment was just. Saul makes a rash vow that weakens his troops and nearly gets his own son killed (14:24ff). He spares the king of the Amalekites and the best of their livestock, against God’s specific command to destroy everything. This disobedience finalized God’s rejection of Saul; after this, God sent Samuel to anoint David as king.
David vs Saul
The conflict between David and Saul shows David to be a son of promise, and Saul to be a son of the serpent. The presence of the Holy Spirit was with David, but Saul was afflicted with a harmful spirit. David was introduced in the royal court for his musical skill, because when he played the lyre, the harmful spirit left Saul.
David’s faith and zeal for the Lord is evident from the beginning of the narrative about him. When Goliath was blaspheming and defying anyone from Israel to face him in battle, David believed that God would give him victory over him, even without the customary armor and weapons.
Saul quickly became jealous of David’s popularity and success, and tried to kill him as soon as he knew that God was with David but not with him—similar to Cain’s murderous desire to kill Abel when Abel, not Cain, found favor with God. From then on Saul tried to kill David, first surreptitiously, then openly, forcing David to flee for his life several times. But David refused to harm Saul—even when Saul was defenseless (1 Samuel 24:1ff)—because he was still God’s anointed even though God had rejected him.
But Saul only grew in wickedness. He was still determined to come to God on his own terms. So when God would not answer him by any of the prescribed means, he sought out a necromancer to bring up the spirit of Samuel. God commanded the death penalty for any witch or necromancer in Israel because those arts are demonic and deceptive. It is normally impossible to communicate with the dead, but to show the severity of the judgment against Saul, God allowed an exception. Scripture says that it was actually Samuel who came to pronounce judgment on Saul. And he and his sons were killed by the Philistines on the next day.
David: a type of the Messiah
David was from the tribe of Judah—the tribe God had promised the scepter to. And David becomes the next figure that teaches us what the Messiah would be like. David had military victories over groups that Israel had been fighting since Joshua’s day, and the peace he secured enabled the peace and prosperity of Solomon’s reign.
David was not only a musician, but a composer, and many of his songs are preserved in Psalms, a songbook in the Old Testament. Some of the songs are about David’s life on one level, but also foreshadow Jesus’ life, as we will see in Part 3.
But David, like all the imperfect ‘types’ of the Messiah, was also a failure, because he was a sinner. Although multiple faults are ascribed to David, his greatest sin in terms of personal ramifications was to commit adultery with Bathsheba and to conspire to kill her husband Uriah. It was a terrible sin and God judged David for it—the son born from adultery died, and there was mayhem in David’s household, culminating in rape, murder, and an attempt at a coup.
But what differentiates the line of promise from the spiritual offspring of the serpent is their reactions when confronted with sin. When the prophet Nathan rebuked David, David was filled with remorse and grieved bitterly because of his sin. Psalm 51 is his plea for God not to abandon him like He abandoned Saul, and to restore him. David’s broken, contrite heart proved that even though he was a sinner, he ultimately belonged to the line of promise.
Faithless kings and the Exile
David remained faithful to God, but his son Solomon did not, and as a result God split the kingdom into two: Israel, which was ruled by several non–Davidic dynasties, and Judah, ruled by David’s descendants. Israel became unfaithful almost immediately and remained unfaithful throughout its history. Judah was mostly idolatrous and disobedient, interrupted by brief periods of reform.
Centuries later, the great prophet Isaiah prophesied against the wickedness of the kings of the day. But he also looked forward to a righteous servant of God. He prophesied to King Ahaz, “Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (7:14).
Isaiah prophesied many things about the Messiah, including this beautiful passage:
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in darkness,
on them a light has shone.
…For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (9:2, 6–7).
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him,
The Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The Spirit of counsel and might,
The Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. (11:1–2).
Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
My chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
Eventually, God rejected the kingly line of David, saying of the king of Judah at the time, Jeconiah:
“As I live, declares the Lord, though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, were the signet ring on my right hand, yet I would tear you off and give you into the hand of those who seek your life, into the hand of those of whom you are afraid, even into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and into the hand of the Chaldeans. … Write this man down as childless, a man who shall not succeed in his days, for none of his offspring shall succeed in sitting on the throne of David and ruling again in Judah.” (Jeremiah 22:24–25, 30).
But by abandoning Jeconiah’s lineage, God was not abandoning His promise to David. Rather, he would raise up another of David’s descendants: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.” (Jeremiah 23:5–6)
After centuries of warning from prophets and from the Law of Moses itself, God drove Israel out of the land to exile in the pagan land of Babylon. Later, Babylon was conquered by the Persians. But even though the people of God faced constant threats from the unbelieving people around them, God preserved them. For example, God clearly intervenes on behalf of Daniel when he is thrown into the lions’ den in Babylon. And Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are not burned when they are thrown into a fiery oven for the crime of worshipping God. And even though the book of Esther never attributes salvation of the Jews in Persia to God, it is clearly implied.
God’s judgment on Israel lasted only 70 years, after which they were allowed to return to and rebuild Jerusalem. And at that time, God indicated that Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel would be the descendant of David from whose line would come the Messiah. Using the same ‘signet’ metaphor, He said: “I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the Lord, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the Lord of hosts” (Haggai 2:23).
Though Israel returned from exile under the leadership of Zerubbabel, there were no more kings. After the close of the Old Testament, God was silent for 400 years. During those many years of war and conquest by foreign and evil rulers, it was unclear how or when God would fulfill His promises, although faithful believers always believed He would. It was not until the appearance of John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus Christ, that God revealed the next stage of His redemptive plan.
References and notes
- Later, Genesis 14 introduces us to Melchizedek, a priest of God. Return to text.
- Currid, J., Genesis: Volume 1, 1:1 – 25:18, Evangelical Press Study Commentary, Webster, NY, p. 251, 2003. Return to text.
- Schreiner, T., The King in His Beauty: A biblical theology of the Old and New Testaments, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI, p. 17, 2013. Return to text.
- Isaac at this point was strong enough to carry the wood, so strong enough to resist Abraham if he wanted to. Return to text.
- Morris, H., The Genesis Record: A Scientific and Devotional Commentary on the Book of Beginnings, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, p. 658, 1976. Return to text.
- See Who were the sons of God in Genesis 6?, an extract from Bates, G., Alien Intrusion (CBP: Powder Springs, 2010). Return to text.
- Yahweh is one transliteration of the covenant name of God, often translated as LORD. Return to text.
- Cole, R. D.. Vol. 3B: Numbers The New American Commentary (Broadman & Holman, Nashville, 2001), p. 379. Return to text.
- Balaam lived in “Pethor, by the River”—this has been identified as Pithru, located about thirteen miles south of Carchemish on a tributary of the Euphrates. See Cole, p. 380. Return to text.